Connor Hartley knew he’d be looking for an education once his junior hockey career was over.
He just didn’t know where.
Thanks to the rebirth of the RDC hockey Kings last season, Hartley found the perfect location.
“I always had decent marks and I wanted to play hockey, so I expected to go to school (and play) somewhere,” said Hartley.
“In my last year of junior (with the Okotoks Oilers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League), I realized there were several options for me and Red Deer was the best. It certainly worked out.”
The 21-year-old returned home, where he grew up playing in the Red Deer Minor Hockey Association. He played two years with the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs before joining the Vernon Vipers to start the 2011-12 season.
He played 24 games with the Vipers before heading to Okotoks, where he played 28 games, scoring seven times and adding six assists.
He played full time for the Oilers the following two seasons, with the 2013-14 year his best — he scored 21 goals and added 28 helpers in 58 games.
RDC head coach Trevor Keeper focused on Hartley when he hit the recruiting trail. He liked the fact the six-foot, 185-pound centre had some offensive ability, but he loved the other intangibles.
“Everyone I talked to raved about his ability at centre, in taking faceoffs, his defensive zone responsibilities and his ability to kill penalties … we’ve seen all that in the preseason.
“He’s a good addition to the team and will play a big role for us,” added Keeper.
Hartley sees himself as a solid two-way player who should adjust to the college game quickly.
“It’s been a good fit so far … a lot of fun,” he said. “There’s more hitting than in junior, but once I got a few hits it didn’t take long to get used to it. I’ve had a few games to get my feet wet.”
Hartley believes the fact the college teams only play twice a week makes a difference in the style of game compared to junior.
“Here we get a bit more rest during the week and everyone is ready and pumped up for the weekend.”
Hartley found going back to school one of his biggest adjustments.
“I took a couple online courses, but nothing in school for the last three years so that is an adjustment,” he said. “But it’s been fun and I’m adjusting.”
He’s taking open studies and will seek to get into engineering next year. He plans on being at RDC at least two years and then transferring to the University of Alberta.
He’s looking forward to playing at home again.
“I know a lot of guys on the team, so it’s like seeing old friends and of course being at home doesn’t suck either. My friends and family will get to see more games as well.”
Hartley sent a good portion of the preseason on a line with Pat Martens and Tyler Berkholtz.
“We’ve been together lately, so we’ll see how it goes,” said Hartley, who will see his first Alberta Colleges Men’s Hockey League regular season action tonight when the Kings host the U of A Augustana Vikings of Camrose at 7 p.m. at the Penhold Regional Multiplex.
“We’re looking forward to it,” added Hartley. “All the guys who are back from last year feel we can be better this year. We have a lot of talent and a lot of character.”
The Kings visit Camrose on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
l The RDC soccer teams are at the halfway point of their ACAC schedule and both teams must win as they host SAIT on Saturday and Olds on Sunday.
The women kick off at noon both days with the men going at 2 p.m.
Both RDC teams are in a battle to make the playoffs.
The top two teams in the men’s South Division, plus Lakeland, the ACAC playoff host, make the post-season and RDC is tied for third with Medicine Hat. Lakeland is first at 4-0-1 and SAIT sits at 3-1-0. RDC is 2-1-2 and Medicine Hat 2-2-2. Lethbridge is at 1-4-1 and Olds 0-4-0.
On the women’s side, RDC, 2-2-1, and SAIT, 2-1-1, are tied for third with seven points each. Medicine Hat is 5-1-0 and Lethbridge 3-2-1. Lakeland is fifth at 0-3-2 and Olds at 0-3-1.
l The volleyball Kings are in action in Vancouver this weekend, playing four top teams out of the PacWest.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at email@example.com. His work can also be seen at www.rdc.ab.ca/athleticsblog.